A Viral Video, Outrage, Then Things Got Complicated

It was like a 'Rorschach test,' says one observer of the initial reaction
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 21, 2019 3:23 PM CST
Viral Video of DC Standoff Is a 'Rorschach Test'
An image from Saturday's incident in Washington, DC.   (Survival Media Agency via AP)

The incident made headlines throughout the weekend: A group of white teenagers on a trip to DC were accused of taunting Native Americans and quickly became internet villains. None more so than Nick Sandmann, a junior at Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, who was photographed in a standoff with an elderly Native American, Nathan Phillips. Now, however, a more complete picture has emerged of the day's events, one that has caused many of the teens' original critics to back off. Details and developments:

  • In their words: Sandmann and Phillips each say they were trying to de-escalate the confrontation, and the Washington Post has a short video encompassing both views in their own words. Sandmann released this statement, noting that he's getting death threats and pledging to cooperate with school officials, who have said expulsions could result from their investigation.
  • What wasn't shown: The original video that provoked outrage toward the teens did not show that a small group of black men called the Hebrew Israelites had been hurling insults at the teens, reports an explainer at CNN. Some of those insults: "incest babies," "young Klansmen," "cracker," and "future school shooters." See this longer video.
  • Mea culpa: "I Failed the Covington Catholic Test," reads a headline above an essay by Julie Irwin Zimmerman in the Atlantic. She had a knee-jerk reaction to the initial video that she now regrets, and she thinks most people are guilty of the same. "The story is a Rorschach test—tell me how you first reacted, and I can probably tell where you live, who you voted for in 2016, and your general take on a list of other issues—but it shouldn’t be." The incident should not have taken on the importance it did, she adds. "Why are we all so primed for outrage?"

  • Those chants: Critics of the teens pointed to their MAGA hats and accused them of chanting "Build the wall" and such, giving the incident an immediate political shorthand, which boiled down to: These kids are privileged racists. The problem is no such chants are heard in the videos that have surfaced, reports the Washington Post. The teens say they did rowdy school chants, the type they'd do at football games, to drown out taunts being sent their way. Sandmann says they got the permission of an adult supervisor with the group before doing them. The students, however, also did a mocking tomahawk chop and war whoops during the standoff.
  • Counter-view: At the Cut, Hunter Hooligan writes that he attended the Indigenous Peoples’ March (of which Phillips was a part) and he says that he and others felt threatened by the teens. He contrasts their "disgusting" behavior with that of Phillips, describing it as "a lesson in perseverance, resilience, and dedication." By contrast, Kyle Smith at the National Review makes the case that Phillips flat-out lied about what happened, and the media bought it.
  • From the right: Conservative critics are lambasting the initial media coverage, saying the mainstream press was quick to jump on an anti-Trump narrative. "I understand that the news business in the age of social media is a competitive rush to publish and beat everyone else to the scoop," writes Jazz Shaw at Hot Air. "But you have a choice of either waiting to be sure you got the story right or jumping down the rabbit hole with everyone else."
  • Walking it back: Organizers of the anti-abortion March for Life, which drew the teens to DC in the first place, initially criticized them in a tweet. But the group later retracted it, writing that "it is clear from new footage and additional accounts that there is more to this story than the original video captured. We will refrain from commenting further until the truth is understood."
(More Native Americans stories.)

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